Diversity Aboveground: Star Wars Heroes

SPOILERS BELOW!

 

With last column discussing how Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Star Wars: Rebels are increasing the diversity of female characters, what about the male heroes? Are they better representing the audience watching the films? What else still needs to happen?

Admiral Statura

C-3PO, Admiral Statura and General Organa

Admiral Statura is one of the leaders of the Resistence. His science knowledge was crucial to taking down Starkiller Base since he suggested taking down the Oscillator. However, he’s played by Asian-American Ken Leung which makes him one of the highest ranked Person of Color in all the theatrical  films.

The rebellion had two pilots of Asian descent in the Battle of Endor. There were a few other Asian actors elsewhere in the original trilogy. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones had actors portraying Jango and Boba Fett that are descended from the Maori: the Indigenous people of New Zealand. The Maori are descended from same Pacific Islanders who populated Polynesia, Hawaii and elsewhere.

Statura is joined in the resistance by a pilot, Jess Pava (Jessica Henwick). Henwick is a biracial actress who mother is Chinese- Singaporean. Having this representation in the Resistance is especially important when the majority of Asian actors in the film play members of the Kanjiklub gang collecting some of Han Solo’s debts and most likely eaten by Rathtars.

Asian actors face difficulties from stereotypes and assumptions based on their looks. Leung described in a 2008 interview that “I remember I had an audition once where after the reading, the auditioner would say, “Wow Ken, you speak really good English. Your English is really good.” And looking back, I can come up with all these things that could have been witty retorts, but at the time, I was just so shocked, you know?”

It’s part of why being inclusive is so important.

Ezra Bridger

Ezra Bridger is thoughtful.

Ezra Bridger is the main protagonist on Star Wars: Rebels. He’s learning the ways of the Force as he accepts that his parents are never coming for him. They’re dead. Bridger is also a very skilled thief and uses those skills for the Rebellion. His skin happens to be darker than Sabine Wren, almost orange and his hair is blue.

Finn

John Boyega as Finn

FN-2187, or Finn, is the first Black stormtrooper seen in Star Wars. The Clone Troopers were all Pacific Islanders and the original trilogy never revealed what was underneath their masks although the Imperial officers were all Caucasian males.

Finn is also the first stormtrooper to desert his post “because it’s the right thing to do”. Sabine Wren was only a cadet when she left the Empire and it appears that the Expanded Universe’s back story that Han Solo was a stormtrooper before rescuing Chewbacca from slavery has been changed into Finn’s story instead. However, Solo appeared to recognize Finn as either being a Stormtrooper or trained by the Empire. Solo’s origins will be explored in an upcoming film focusing on him before the Battle of Yavin aka Star Wars: A New Hope.

Lando Calrissian

Lando Calrissian

Lando Calrissian was the first major cast member to be Black although Darth Vader’s voice was always supplied by James Earl Jones.

At first, he appeared to be a rogue scheming for the best outcome for himself, he came through for his friends and led the attack to blow up the second Death Star during the Battle of Endor. His pilot skills were showcased as he and co-pilot Nien Numb maneuvered the Millennium Falcon through the uncompleted Death Star.

Star Wars: Return of the Jedi wasn’t the last fans saw of Lando Calrissian. He was in an episode of Star Wars: Rebels in early 2015 where they showed Calrissian before he became in charge of Bespin. This appearance gives hope Calrissian will be in the solo Han Solo film. There is also a rumor that since Star Wars: The Force Awakens resembled a retooled Star Wars: A New Hope so much that Billy Dee Williams will reprise his role as an older Lando Calrissian in Episode VIII. He did supply the voice for Calrissian’s appearance on Star Wars: Rebels.

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Nien Numb

Nien Numb

Nien Numb, as mentioned before, was Lando Calrissian’s co-pilot for the Battle of Endor and helped blow up the Death Star. Admiral Ackbar orchestrated the whole battle. Despite that being more than thirty years ago, both remain crucial as the Rebellion turned into the Resistance. It shows how much the Resistance prizes knowledge and skill over a person’s looks whereas the newest version of the Empire still only uses humanoid species.

Poe Dameron and the Challenges still to be Overcome

Kes Dameron and Shara Bey after the Battle of Endor

Kes Dameron and Shara Bey

Poe Dameron is a second generation Resistance fighter. Both his parents, and the mother of Terrin “Snap” Wexley, flew in the Battle of Endor. Even though Leia Organa and Luke Skywalker were technically second generation Rebels since their mother and Leia’s adoptive father co-founded the Rebellion, this has never been acknowledged by them or really explored.

Dameron is played by the Latino Oscar Isaac. However, there have been multiple people online who have mistaken him for “white”. Isaac is biracial. While he has Caucasian ancestry, his mother is Guatemalan and his father is Cuban. He was born Oscar Isaac Hernandez in Guatemala. When he appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live!, he told the host how “I bought my own Guillermo”, referring to both his uncle and that Kimmel’s sidekick is named Guillermo. His uncle was also an extra on Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

The white-washing is prevalent in the toys, too. Most of Dameron’s toys have fair skin that resemble Luke Skywalker more than Bail Organa; another Star Wars character played by a Latino actor, Jimmy Smits.

Bail Organa played by Jimmy Smits

Large film companies have been guilty of casting biracial actors over those with darker skin. However, in this case, Dameron’s skin color was never specified and director, J.J. Abrams chose to cast Oscar Isaac. This is the kind of colorblind casting that should be praised.

In the same 2008 interview mentioned before, Leung was asked about auditions and whether they had become easier.

“I don’t know, because I don’t know what the people on the other end are thinking. You want to be invited into the room for you, and not what you look like. That’s true for anybody for any profession. Not what you look like or what you ‘represent’ or anything like that. But it’s hard to say because sometimes you’re like, ‘they just want me so they can add some color to their palette.’ Or, ‘they just want me so that they can be diverse in their casting.’ You don’t know.”

While it’s important to have diverse casts, the final goal is to have completely color-blind, gender – blind casting where the person who’s best for that role is cast regardless of their gender or racial make-up.

Ahmed Best as Jar Jar

As mentioned previously, James Earl Jones supplied the voice for Darth Vader even though the character is Caucasian. Ahmed Best and Lupita Nyong’o both played CGI characters unrecognizable as the original actors. David Oyelowo, best known for his role as Martin Luther King, Jr in Selma, provides the voice of Agent Kallus on Star Wars: Rebels. Kallus is Caucasian. Should we construe it as hiding their true racial identity or being progressive colorblind casting?

Gay Icon?

Pop culture guru, Samantha Shavell, describes a romantic film as having “a set formula. Boy meets girl. They date. Something breaks them up. And in the end, they get back together.”

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The thing about using these requirements in Star Wars: The Force Awakens is that they don’t fit Finn and Rey. She voluntarily leaves him. Even composer John Williams described her story as an “adventure”, not romance.

Finn and Poe are about to meet.

However, there are two characters who fit this description: Finn and Poe Dameron. They even have a “meet cute” where two characters destined to be together meet in a humorous and/or unlikely fashion. A stormtrooper breaking out a rebel pilot because he needs someone to fly so he can desert the Empire definitely qualifies. They have chemistry as they work together to escape and work well with each other. They are forced into separation as the Jakku crash landing leads each to assume the other must be dead. When they’re reunited, each hurries to the other in a hug, calling their name. Later, they use a tracking shot of each other looking at each other and embracing more common to romantic comedies or period films. In the end, it’s Poe that stays by Finn’s side as he goes to medical and he doesn’t go with Rey on her mission.

Isaac isn’t denying the possibility either. When asked on Ellen about romance among the main characters, he answered, “I think it’s very subtle romance that’s happening. You have to just look very closely, you have to watch it a few times to see the little hints, but there was. At least, I was playing romance. In the cockpit I was playing, there was a deep romance there. I won’t say with which character, but there was. … Could be a droid.”

While the cockpit hint could apply to BB-8, it could also refer to Finn and Poe’s escape in the TIE Fighter.

Finn and Poe are off to war.

Is it really that much of a surprise that so much of that Internet is rooting for them to be together? While tradition Star Wars dynamics make it appear that Rey and Finn are destined to be together, Leia had strong feelings for Luke that turned out to be sisterly. There’s no reason why Rey’s feelings for Finn can’t be sisterly also.

There are only two countries standing in the way:

India and China

Both are important movie going populations that can decide the difference between a hit and a blockbuster. Just last week, Star Wars: The Force Awakens‘ failure to overtake Jurassic World as the world’s best opening weekend was blamed on not opening in China and India yet. Both markets also have more conservative populations. In India, having sex with someone of the same gender, no matter the consent or age, can still be a punishable offense. In China, Poe Dameron was erased from the film poster completely and Finn was made into a minuscule illustration. This was more likely racism but it’s still bigotry. The Chinese government has rejected all American films that have confirmed homosexual characters on grounds that the film is either “obscene” or “pornographic”.

But is that really a reason to punish the rest of the world? To not allow a character for children and adolescents to identify with? If India and China continue having release dates after the rest of the world, why not edit the film for those countries while preserving it for everyone else?

LGBTQA representation is important and having one of the main characters in a Star Wars film be homosexual would be a powerful, wonderful thing for decades to come.

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Did you know that Guatemala served as the exteriors for Yavin? Isaac suggested his character be from there and that’s how Poe Dameron being raised on Yavin became canon.

Next column…

What were some of the best moments for diversity in 2016?

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